Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Holiday Wish #4: Bring me a Destination that....

Wish #4: Has comprehensive recycling and composting infrastructure.

I will admit, this list is rather biased, and with this wish in particular, perhaps just a tad self-serving. Truth is, I am - like many - inherently lazy. Another truth is my ability to be lazy in my job is impeded by lack of available recycling and composting infrastructure in the cities where I meet! :)

The ability for different cities to recycle and compost varies greatly. Different factors such as available infrastructure and local government regulation can support or discourage more responsible waste management. I encourage CVBs to share basic information about recycling infrastructure in their RFP responses. Tell me:

  • What materials your venues can recycle locally.
  • If venues can compost organic waste, including disposable serviceware.
  • What your average civic diversion rate from landfill is.
  • If your venue can track an event-specific waste stream.

CVBs should be aware that in some cities, waste management is a cost issue. It is not uncommon for cities to charge less to haul recyclables and organics than trash. The cost difference per ton may be a few dollars or a few hundred. It depends on the city. These costs are ultimately passed on to planners. Knowing your venues are able to divert a high amount of waste through recycling and composting can reduce land-filling costs.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Holiday Wish #3: Bring me a Destination that...

Wish #3: Has venues and hotels that act on sustainability and are able to measure it.

It is good to see venues and hotels coming into sustainability. The growth of green building certifications gives planners confidence construction of event sites integrates sustainability considerations. Still, I would encourage CVBs to communicate meaningful information about the actual performance of these facilities, especially from an operations perspective. Wondering what this means? Read on for some ideas...

On the hotel side, tell me how many of your rooms or what percentage of hotel properties provide 'green' guest rooms. Criteria to consider and communicate should include things like:
  • linen reuse
  • guest room recycling availability
  • water conserving fixtures
  • energy efficient lights/HVAC systems
  • environmentally and socially responsible purchasing practices
  • housekeeping practices that are mindful of water and energy conservation
  • accessible rooms
  • non-smoking rooms
  • allergy-sensitive rooms
And please, PLEASE, stay in a guest room! Verify that sustainable practices are actually implemented. Where practices are not followed inform your hotels so they can course correct to make sure they are. If there is one thing I can count on during an event is that at least once I will hear from someone that their towels were changed, even when they were hung up. Help us help hotels ensure that practices are consistently followed.

For venues it is great to know facilities may be LEED-certified, or Green Seal-rated, and I would like to know more specific outcomes from these programs. Volunteer information about waste management practices, energy and water conservation efforts and most importantly: how it relates to our event.
  • What amount of renewable energy can I expect to be sourced?
  • How many pounds of waste might we expect to be produced per attendee?
  • Or alternatively, what is the typical diversion rate from landfill and incineration?
  • Are venues able to donate conference materials and food? Can you track this?
  • What is the per-attendee energy and water use rate?
Knowing all of these can help a 'green' planner anticipate how much time she will need to allocate for sustainability planning. The more that is in place at venues and hotels the easier her life becomes! So CVBs: if you can provide this level of detail, please do! It just might tip the scales in your destination's favour!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Chicago, Three Years Later

Too often sustainable event efforts can seem like a flash-in-the-pan. It makes you wonder what happens in the destination after you leave, and if any of the sustainability programs created for your event 'stick'.

I wanted to send a shout out to the team at McCormick Place in Chicago for reassuring me last week that indeed, some things do stick!

In 2007 I attended my first Greenbuild at McCormick Place. Coming back last week to Greenbuild 2010 in Chicago, my biggest hope was that we would see an improvement on 2007, and hopefully meet or exceed what was achieved then. It wouldn't be easy, knowing that in 2007 Greenbuild achieved an event and facility record-setting 91% diversion from landfill, along with other notable improvements.

The jury is still out on 2010 waste diversion, but I have to say, it was reassuring to see in many areas things had changed since 2007. A permanent exhibit hall recycling program was in place. Improved front of house recycling was evident, both measures helping the venue to maintain a 57% diversion from landfill rate, a vast improvement on 2007 levels. Composting was not yet in place but at least an in-state program was now available, so no trucking organics to Indiana this time! Facility maintenance staff had also completely switched to a more environmentally sustainable option for cleaning chemicals as the result of a tendering process that based requirements for cleaning contractors on Greenbuild guidelines.

There were definitely some hiccups too. Staff training was a huge challenge, especially with the event needing such a large pool of last minute, temporary labour. Ongoing troubleshooting was necessary to make sure new crew shifts knew what to do to sort materials appropriately. Composting bags weren't big enough. There weren't enough of them. Volunteers couldn't provide 100% coverage of recycling stations, etc., etc.

It was actually in these trouble-shooting moments where I was most impressed and really saw the legacy left by 2007. Every single sustainability challenge we encountered on-site was met head-on by a senior staff member at McCormick Place, in person, and very quickly. They 'got it' and knew how important this piece of the event was based on their experience in 2007.

And often the solution required was not pretty. It involved reaching in, and getting very dirty. Imagine that: the Assistant General Manager reaching into a compost bin to fish out a piece of plastic. Facility Directors lending a hand to change a trash bag. Management supervisors having to open and walk into a dumpster to make sure streams were uncontaminated. Uncommon sights, for sure.

They say leadership is defined not by what you say, but by what you do. Hats off to all the staff at McCormick Place, Allied Waste and Restaurant Partners for leading by example during Greenbuild 2010. Regardless of the diversion secured to me you've demonstrated what sustainability is about: doing the best you can. Responding to stakeholder needs. Learning new and better approaches. And not being afraid to get your hands dirty! My sincere thanks to all your staff in all areas for working so hard on the waste management program for this event!

Tongs and gloves in hand, Greenbuild attendees
get an orientation to waste management
by Amy Spatrisano of MeetGreen.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Holiday Wish #2: Bring me a Destination That...

Wish#2: Has public transit connections between the airport and convention core.

A city with well integrated transit is helpful, but in all honesty the connection between the airport and convention core is key. If you have one flaunt it!

Also, pay attention to how friendly fare programs are to out-of-towners. Some cities have great train connections from the airport, but signage, confusing fare systems and lack of assistance from transit staff can make it next to impossible for new users to understand how to get from A to B.

It can help if you have a ready-made explanation of how to navigate transit that can be included on the event web site. Planners will do their part to share information, but need to know connections are safe, clean, reliable and easy to access.

Thanks to Giselle Radulovic for her comments and the inspiration for this wish!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Holiday Wish #1: Bring me a Destination That....

Are you a CVB wanting to know what simple sustainable features of your destination you should communicate to meeting planners? Well, you've come to the right place. Over the next few weeks I'll be posting my rather selfish and completely subjective list of "Sustainable things I wish CVBs and DMOs would let me know about BEFORE my meeting" Watch for more to come, and add your own!

Wish #1: Easy-access convention core.

Tell me how many rooms you have in reasonable walking distance of your convention center and major meeting venues. A 15 minute walk is a good rule of thumb to follow. I want to know because if I can find a city where all attendees can walk I know that will save money! A 3,500 person event can cut $60,000 in budget expenses by eliminating the need to shuttle attendees.

And what about attendees? Many welcome the fresh air after a day of sessions, and a chance to see the city. Those with mobility issues can also be willing to make their own way but be mindful that routes need to be clear from obstacles that might make use of a walker, scooter or wheelchair more difficult. So include information in your RFP response about accessibility options that are available.

It's also in your interest to fill me in on what makes your city easy to navigate by foot. More people strolling can mean less traffic congestion, air pollution from shuttles and more spill-over revenue to local businesses.

Not many room nights within a close walk of main meeting venues? Let me know how many are a single transit connection away. Talk to your civic transit authority to see if they may be willing to discount or donate transit passes to help attendees navigate the city. This could sweeten the deal if I can't house all participants nearby.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

City vs Country: Is the Concrete Jungle More Sustainable?

Excerpt from New Scientist
08 November 2010 by Shanta Barley

They may not have so many trees to hug, but city slickers lead more environmentally friendly lives than their country cousins.

On the Ordos plateau in north central China, shepherds can remember the grass being tall enough to hide a horse. No longer. It is now so short and sparse that in places even a scurrying rabbit has no cover. To try and halt this loss of habitat, the government has paid farmers and shepherds to move to the district capital, Ordos City. Some 435,000 of the region's inhabitants - almost half the total - have left as a result.

"What the Chinese government has realised is that these people will do less environmental damage living at high density in a city than when they're spread out across the countryside," says Gordon McGranahan, an urban economist at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London who visited Ordos last year.

The idea is rapidly gaining weight outside of China, with a wave of recent research showing that cities may provide the perfect environment to deal with impending environmental crises. Some even claim that cities are the best way to reduce poverty and stem population growth.

The latest issue of New Scientist provides a new perspective to challenge our assumptions that the big city has a bigger impact than rural living. To read the full article visit New Scientist (subscription required).

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Love. Not Loss.

Remember when you were a kid, and couldn't settle for someone else doing it for you? Not content to watch you wanted to be an active participant in sensing and experiencing the world. Sometimes it led to getting dirty, sometimes getting burned. Always learning the consequences and appreciating the experience directly. Unmediated. Personally.

I have a few childhood experiences I recall as very powerful ones. Most of them take place on the harbour where I spent many hours beach-combing, fishing, playing and discovering. A common feeling in my oldest memories is a sense of extreme happiness about being in this special place, mixed with sadness and loss where I saw it 'hurt' through things like pollution that left the shellfish unfit to eat. Out of the sadness comes a strong sense of protection and love for nature that I'm fairly certain has influenced me on the path I am today.


Spending time on the road, in hotels, convention centers and at meeting after meeting may seem a vast departure from this path. However, I have always felt sustainable meetings work has a strong connection with environmental education and positively empowering people to protect the planet in ways that have meaning for them. It happens on many levels, one of which is the power we have as event professionals to create an experience that changes lives, and causes people to act in a different way when granted a new appreciation of a relationship, place or issue. Ways that make people feel good about what they do so they are inspired to do better, rather than bad about what they don't do, or do wrong, and unmotivated to go further.

With that perspective in mind I wanted to post the following video in hopes that love and not loss will continue to propel us forward in all avenues we work.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Just when you thought you had one problem solved....

...another rears its head.

I think we all can agree that recycling is a cornerstone of sustainable events. It's something that is low hanging, basic and measurable in most cases. It's the one thing you can feel pretty good about, without the trade-offs that often exist between local and organic, for example.

Well, an experience has caused me to think again.

I had the opportunity to tour a shall-remain-nameless recycling plant in a shall-remain-nameless destination. The facility was fairly average: sort piles, belts, balers; what you would expect from a typical, mid-sized facility. The plant's ability to reclaim materials was fairly good. On average 90% of sorted materials were able to be marketed. So why did I leave the plant with a bad feeling in my stomach?

Could it be the dusty, hot working conditions? Maybe the obvious gap between management and crews? Perhaps the pristine conditions of the executive offices compared to the meager crew break areas? The obvious racial characteristics in common among the crews, which were very different than those of management? Maybe all four.

Had this been my first recycling plant tour I may not have noticed. But I've been to enough facilities to know that labour conditions in other plants appeared to be much better. Well-ventilated sorting areas with air conditioning being an obvious difference.

The experience has caused me to reflect: how safe are the recycling processes our sustainable events rely on? I recently came across the following report from Massachusetts published on Workers Memorial Day, April 28, 2010: Dying for Work in Massachusetts, Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts Workplaces. In the words of the report: "Just because a job is green, doesn't make it safe and well-paid". (Before you make a connection, the destination and facility I visited were not in Massachusetts.)

The report discloses an issue that I would expect exists worldwide: the need to ensure recycling workers have access to employment benefits and a safe workplace. In San Francisco civic mandates for a 75% recycling diversion are enabled by a unionized workforce. The report provides some interesting insight into the growth of 'green jobs', the hazards inherit in them, and what is needed to ensure health and safety.

Something to think about as we relish the success of the high diversion rate from landfill: Who made that happen for us and are they okay?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Whose Wealth, Whose Commons?

In recent weeks the Canadian media has been highlighting preparations for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India. Interest flared around the recent collapse of a pedestrian bridge, athlete safety and security, cleanliness, and the perceived 'covering up' of local social problems related to poverty and slums in preparation for the Games' opening. Throughout media have questioned: is it a good idea for Canadian athletes to participate? Is it safe? Is it appropriate if there are concerns over social justice?

Athletes from Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada and other countries have since withdrawn from the competition, citing concerns over health, security and the adequacy of facilities.

Stumbling around for information and answers I came across a report by the Housing and Land Rights Network - South Asia Regional Programme Habitat International Coalition titled The 2010 Commonwealth Games: Whose Wealth? Whose Commons? The publication is a revealing study and position paper into how critical human rights and corruption issues can be overlooked during planning for large events to the detriment of local populations. If nothing else it speaks volumes in support of the need for stakeholder inclusion in planning.

And despite the many breakdowns in process and issues raised in the paper, I find myself resistant to pass judgment about what went wrong, and how. The reason being I think it is very easy to judge, and decide to opt out, standing here with my limited and comfortable Canadian perspective. It is a lot harder to try to engage, and create solutions to the issues.

In the end, it makes me question the feasibility of producing large events that use a 'western' idea of development in areas that need more than 'here today, gone tomorrow' solutions to sustainable community development. Is the investment of money in the creation of facilities, servicing of visitors and international media profile that goes along with the Commonwealth Games too short-term for Delhi? It would seem so for a destination that could sorely benefit from early consideration of how this kind of event can be a catalyst for long term improvements in local quality of life.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Name that Destination

Sometimes work just follows you around on holidays. Sometimes in a bad way, sometimes in a good way. So even my effort to get away from it all this summer, I couldn't help spotting examples of sustainable destinations at work. See if you can guess where I went...

Hint #1: This destination maintains a 65% average diversion from landfill, making it a national leader in waste management. Not only is that impressive, but check out their standard compost bins in public areas!

Even our beach cottage had a detailed guide about how to recycle and compost, providing receptacles for both.

Hint #2: The Wind Energy Institute of Canada has called this destination home for 25 years, providing a central research and testing ground for renewable energy. Tourists and engineering buffs alike can check out the 17 turbines in operation at WEIC's testing site and other smaller wind farms scattered about. Without significant hydro, coal or petroleum resources this destination is aiming to source 30% of power through renewables by 2016.

Hint #3: This destination IS local food. In fact, it has developed an entire niche tourism industry based on Flavour Trails that encourage visitors to visit farms, participate in local agriculture and eat a delicious harvest of island grown produce. Definitely no place for a dieter. And although not entirely local, the Dalvay sticky-date pudding is to die for.

Hint #4: Local artisans, unique cultures and craftspeople are still alive and well, including the stunning Evangeline region that remains true to it's Acadian roots, my roots.

If those aren't enough hints and you haven't cheated by clicking links, think potatoes, red sand and Anne of Green Gables. Prince Edward Island was a sustainable destination surprise.

Photos: Recycling centres, Cavendish Beach. WEIC, Tignish. Mont Carmel parish cemetery, Mont Carmel.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Carbon confession

It's that time of year again: time for the carbon confession. The time of year where I get to find out how badly my air travel kicked the planet in the teeth.

Things didn't seem so bad in 2007 when I first started tracking: 12,357 miles logged. Alarm bells went off in 2008, however, when my personal air miles peaked at 58,309. Something had to be done. But how do you reconcile requests to plan and verify sustainable events with a moral imperative to cut carbon? It's tough.

So I started to do a few practical things.
  • Taking direct flights. Sometimes not the best choice financially, but better from the perspective of reducing miles and take off and landing emissions. With enough lead time to ensure seats are available at a reasonable price it's helping.
  • Consolidating trips. It may require being away from home for a longer stretch of time but in many cases I'm able to save money and emissions by scheduling project trips back to back. So instead of two return trips, three one-way trips add up to fewer miles and in the long run, less time in transit than if trips were taken separately.
  • Being prepared. When you know you can only do one site visit and there will be no further opportunities to come back in-person you tend to make sure you're well prepared to do everything you need to do in one visit. Training myself to be prepared that my one site visit is my only shot has prevented the need for multiple trips.
  • Choosing a greener airline. This is tough, but sometimes possible if multiple airlines service a destination. Check out Greenopia for information on what your airline is doing to be more sustainable.
  • Packing less. Being on the road often has honed my packing efficiency. Less weight is best for hassle-free travel, and fewer emissions.
And I started to do a few things that were tougher choices to make.
  • Asking for flexibility with site visit times.
  • Requiring only one and saying no to additional site inspections.
  • Declining speaking opportunities unless there is a clear and measurable ROI.
  • Opting to have other staff located closer to the event region conduct site inspections and meetings, rather than myself where I'm farther afield.
So, I'm starting to make a dent. In 2009 mileage dropped to 40,196. This year I've dropped to 27,296 air miles. A dramatic part of this year's drop is due to client events being closer to my home, although 5,000 miles were directly reduced through consolidation, which is still progress.

I know that even despite best efforts I'm still having a negative impact. However by being thoughtful about it I hope it's in a way that does less harm.

Thursday, 5 August 2010


On television they're the evil Visitors. In the graphic novel and film he's scorned as a terrorist. For meetings the letter "V" might assume the same degree of loathing and dread: the Virtual Meeting! Striking fear in the hearts of many an event professional, the virtual meeting is something we can't deny but at the same time can't find it possible to fully embrace given how counter it is to the destination-driven business model for meetings.

Yet for event sustainability the model presents significant benefits, as proven by a recent analysis of a hybrid meeting.

The Event: An invitation-only business meeting, hosting attendees from around the world. 1600 executive attendees attending in person, 5700 technical specialists attending virtually.

The Scope: Carbon footprint analysis completed for the in-person meeting, including venue, hotels, ground transport and air travel. Additional analysis of the virtual meeting, including estimated electricity used while in the virtual environment.

The Result: An estimated 2355 metric tons of carbon emissions were produced by the in-person meeting for 1600 participants. The 5700-person virtual event produced an estimated 5.6 metric tons for carbon dioxide. 10,054 metric tons of emissions were avoided by inviting technical experts to participate virtually: the equivalent of taking 2000 cars off the road for a year.

The reality-check: Would all of the virtual attendees have attended in person if afforded the opportunity? Likely not. However the question remains: as a specific audience whose event-participation needs are fulfilled by attending virtually should they attend in person? In the case of this event it would seem the traditional model of more heads in beds might not apply, and another business model is at work to meet attendee expectations.

What does the trend toward hybrid meetings that integrate technology to enable participation mean for event sustainability and destination managers? Are we denying what seems to be an inevitable march toward and increasingly virtual meeting experience? Or are we creating a proactive strategy to deliver the best experience using the most effective medium for the audience?

Monday, 26 July 2010

Facing up to Responsibilities

In the run-up to the World Cup in South Africa, there have been campaigns for improved access to water and sanitation, responsible tourism, promotion of basic education, some of which have been supported by the private sector and NGOs, and they have established a link between football, social responsibility and the respect of human rights.

Companies associated with the World Cup, as with other major sporting events, must ensure that workers they employ are treated fairly, and their rights to a fair wage, to organize, to bargain collectively, and against exploitation are respected. Manufacturers must ensure that in their supply chain there is no exploitation of workers in developing countries, and no use of exploitative child labour or forced labour. Construction companies, catering companies, and other service businesses should not encourage practices that restrict trading opportunities for small traders and other businesses. They should also make sure that they are not in any way complicit in trafficking of women or children.

The private sector needs to enter into dialogue with host governments, and governing bodies, such as FIFA, raising concerns of where companies’ responsibility to respect international human rights standards may be compromised by the states’ lack of willingness to protect its citizens. Ignorance or inaction are tantamount to complicity.

When apartheid ended in South Africa, it joined the international community of open, democratic countries. Such countries do not erect walls with their neighbours; nor do they prevent their poorest and vulnerable citizens from practicing their trade legally. The peaceful transition of South Africa was meant to be an example of removing barriers and opening frontiers.

Tear down those walls.

Excerpt from: World Cup South Africa 2010 - Facing up to Responsibilities. Steve Ouma, Institute for Human Rights and Business.

An eye-opening read for those interested in digging deep into the human rights issues associated with large-scale sporting events and the social responsibility obligations for destinations.

What would destination bidding requirements for human rights look like? What would be included? How would a destination respond to ensure concerns for things like housing, migrant workers, fair labour and human trafficking were addressed?

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Destination Accessibility: Paying Attention?

And I'm not just talking about air connections.

ADA: it's one of those things we kind of take for granted in the USA. We assume that because the Americans with Disabilities Act is law that it is followed by the hospitality industry. Truth is, it is often something that is enforced by watchdogs and event planners who are diligent about ensuring their attendees have an accessible experience. And not the kind of experience that makes special accommodations to single out those with mobility issues as 'more burden' and 'less human'. It's about providing an equal and dignified event experience. (Shout out to Patti Cameron - thanks for being such an advocate and the teaching you do!)

How many destinations consider this? How many convention services managers have ever attempted to navigate from their convention centre to a hotel in a wheelchair, or a scooter? Or get on a bus? Cross a street? Find a table in a restaurant? If you haven't I suggest you do. It's an enlightening experience that provides you with a whole new perspective of how someone else views your city, and how welcoming it is.

The Opening Door has a lengthy list of accessibility guides for different destinations, some produced by CVBs and DMOs, others independently. Minneapolis also has a good guide that is a few years old, which was recently used for an event I attended. Vancouver and Whistler are also good examples. And if you thought bungee jumping was not an accessible attraction...think again:

Please comment with other helpful accessibility guides and examples! Don't forget this stakeholder in your event plans and your destination development!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Diverting from Diversion

Not to stray too far from the scope of my blog but I've had an itch about sustainable event measurement I'm needing to scratch.

For a number of years meeting planners and venues have been focusing on waste diversion as a key performance indicator for their events. A high percent diversion from landfill = good and a low diversion from landfill = not so good. I've become concerned that this is only telling part of the story, and feel the need to argue in support of other metrics that give a fuller picture of the waste issue.

Nancy Wilson recently shared some observations about this issue in a post on her blog: First Things First!

The inspiration for both our posts came as we considered some historical data for the Unitarian Universalist Association's General Assembly. We have complete waste, recycling and donation data for this event which has enabled us to confirm the following diversion from landfill:
  • Year 1: 18% diversion
  • Year 2: 50% diversion
  • Year 3: 76% diversion
A great story to tell, yes, but what about reduction?

On a deeper dive into the numbers collected we see in addition to a strong recycling rate, that UUA has reduced the total weight of materials landfilled, donated, recycled and composted by 75% over this three year period! Supporting the claim of reduction we can also look at the amount of materials shipped to show site, which has experienced a 20% reduction between Year 2 and 3. Credit is definitely due to the meeting host (go UUA!), and the suppliers they've worked with. In Years 2 and 3 their vendors have been more and more progressive from a sustainability perspective; reusing materials, purchasing in bulk and mandating reduced packaging. And that makes sense, after all, they've chosen them partially on that basis!

The point is: there are a variety of waste indicators we need to pay attention to. These different indicators help us know how the myriad decisions we make have an impact. So don't confuse waste diversion with waste reduction. Look a little deeper to see the whole story.

Worth it?

Well, the party's over. The dignitaries have left town, the fences are down, the bouncers have been paid off. The question remains: was it worth it?

Canadians will likely never have a clear picture if our investment of an estimated $1.1 billion in hosting the 2010 G8 and G20 summits was worth it. History shows that some agreements stick, but some do not; the bulk of negotiations having taken place before such Summits anyway, which afford the opportunity for quick meetings, hand-shakes and press-worthy photos. And the profile afforded to Canada in retrospect given protests is not likely the image marketers would hope for. After all, the event earned a travel advisory from the US Department of State urging American travelers to approach Toronto with caution.

Regardless of the issues before, during and after, the question remains for meeting managers and event destinations: is there a better way?

  • Is there a better way to use virtual and in-person meetings to their greatest advantage to support the purpose of international decision-making on significant issues?
  • What is the model to siting significant international political events and is a different approach needed?
  • Is it more responsible financially, environmentally and socially to select a consistent location where the guarantee of recurring meetings leads to more economical costs and predictable ways to host them?
  • Should host destinations bear the entire burden of securing events for international heads of state or is a cooperative model for funding security needed?
  • How can freedom of expression by those with relevant and important issues be guaranteed while ensuring safety and security for city residents against acts of violence and vandalism?
  • How can host country governments be held accountable to taxpayers for financial investments required to host the G8 and G20, or other Summits of this nature?
Accepting the fundamental economic model of meetings, I would be curious if Toronto or Huntsville would want to host these events again in light of the costs and protests, or if they would desire a different way? Making me wonder if indeed, they are worth it.

Related articles:
CBC: G20 protest violence prompts over 400 arrests
Globe & Mail: Billion-dollar G20 security cost not a ‘blank cheque,’ security czar argues
Toronto Star: Too early to tell if G8/G20 security costs worth it: budget watchdog

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Fired Up!

A couple of months back I posted about the issue of incineration and its implications for measuring event diversion. The lesson being to ask questions about what your convention destination and venue reports as diversion from landfill to ensure you can accurately understand and analyse your event waste stream. Make sure you confirm if your waste will be incinerated, and how that factors into diversion reporting.

I realise I didn't delve deeply into why this is important from an environmental perspective. To help shed light on this I'd like to share a recent article by Charlie Smith from the Georgia Strait, which dives deeper into the issue of incineration. The article is timely for the City of Vancouver as controversy continues to ensue about a plan to divert 500,000 tonnes of trash to a waste-to-energy facility. A paper published by seven University of British Columbia environmental science students has drummed up increased media attention about how the city is dealing with garbage. Their thesis: reduce first and look at other alternatives.

A great read for those interested in understanding some of the issues with incineration from the perspective of a destination considering this path.

Read more: Metro Vancouver waste-to-energy incinerator opponents fired up for a fight.
Watch more:

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Standing on the Side of Love

It's an eloquent statement, describing a common and fundamental value of Unitarian Universalists. Everyone is has a right to equality. Everyone has worth, and is worthy of compassion. Everyone should be treated with respect.

This statement was tested at the UUA's General Assembly, held last month in Minneapolis, MN. It was tested in a way that regardless of your faith, has relevance for event sustainability.

To provide context, in May 2010, UUA's Board was faced with a hard decision upon receiving confirmation that Arizona law SB1070 had been passed. With their annual General Assembly scheduled for June 2012 in Phoenix, AZ should they boycott? Or should they go?

Under SB1070, which is scheduled to go into effect in August 2010 throughout Arizona:

"...police would be required to ask any person already detained for another reason for proof of legal residence if police had a “reasonable suspicion” that the detained person could be in the country illegally. Law officers could also arrest anyone “if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.” In addition, the law allows citizens to bring lawsuits against officials or agencies that they believe are not enforcing the law to its fullest extent and implicates legal residents who transport or “harbor” undocumented friends or relatives.

Reaction to the law has been swift and strong. U.S. President Barack Obama criticized the law on April 23, describing it as “misguided.” In an interview published in the Los Angeles Times on April 28, Obama said, “What I think is a mistake is when we start having local law enforcement officials empowered to stop people on the suspicion that they may be undocumented workers, because that carries a great amount of risk that core values that we all care about are breached.” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also condemned the law, as did Homeland Security Secretary—and former Arizona governor—Janet Napolitano.

In a statement released April 23, UUA President Peter Morales said, “Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 undermines everything our nation stands for. Under the provisions of this law, members of my own extended family could be targeted and detained, even though we have been American citizens for generations.”
Full article.

Facing a potential loss of $615,000 the UUA Board approved an initial resolution in May 2010 to withdraw from contracted obligations to host the 2012 General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ, and relocate to another destination. The motion was to be voted on by UUA delegates at the General Assembly in Minneapolis, June 26, 2010.

But a lot can happen in two months when in addition to standing on the side of love you also uphold another principle of Unitarian Universalism: honouring the democratic process. After two months of observing virtual and in-person debate I sat anxiously in an at-capacity Plenary Hall, awaiting the verdict 3,000 UUA delegates on the issue.

The plenary discussion began with the following video:

The verdict: resounding support of a revised resolution to host a "Justice" General Assembly in Phoenix in June 2012.

Regardless of my personal opinion on the issue, never have I witnessed such a deep and broad expression of stakeholder engagement in resolving an event sustainability issue. I look forward to joining UUA at their 2012 event in Phoenix and honouring their mandate to "Stand on the Side of Love".

Find the time to have your say!

Funny how it seems everything happens at once. Last month ASTM wrapped up balloting on the latest round of Green Meeting standards. This summer national working groups are reviewing the latest Committee Draft of the proposed ISO 20121 Standard Sustainability in Event Management, working hard to get their feedback included in advance of the next international working group meeting in September 2010. In addition the public consultation for the Event Sector Supplement of the Global Reporting Initiative wraps up August 3.

I really should have posted about this all at least two months ago. These three initiatives are long overdue and have huge implications for sustainable event management and destinations. Before beating myself up too badly though, I have to acknowledge that the reason I'm tardy is that I've been buried in projects. Only now am I digging myself out from working my events to tap back into my blog, and updating it to reflect what is going on in the area of policy development for event sustainability.

My situation leads me to a fundamental question: How sustainable are standards for sustainable events?

I support the need for standards in event sustainability. Consistency, transparency and a universal rule-book are sorely needed. But as I look at myself and my colleagues I have to ask: can we expect people to actually do what is required of standards? I don't mean can we go paperless, or can we recycle, or do away with bottles. Of course we can. The checklist and action is really the easy part. I mean can we and our project budgets afford the time and human resources to research, document, audit and report to the degree required to live up to these various policies? Some would say we have to, we can't afford not to. I might be inclined to agree as I look at the endless list of environmental and social issues that scroll through the newswire everyday. But it is a valid question, with significant implications for all event professionals.

This will be a key thought in my mind as I review and participate in each of these processes. I urge you all to do the same, and carefully consider what is required when you read through each and every aspect. Also ask: how does all this fit together to influence and improve what I do? How will it shift responsibility in my organization? How will it change procurement, contracting, decision-making and post-event follow-up?

Standards are needed. And in reviewing them we have a responsibility to not be careless. We need to ensure they are meaningful, credible and strong while also thinking about the practicalities of what living up to them requires.

So take the time to participate. Read. Talk to your colleagues. Comment. We need everyone to provide input if we are to move forward in achieving the fundamental intent: a sustainable event.

And for those of you who are a little cynical about the whole green meetings standards process just remember what my Dad used to say about getting out to vote: Giving your input now gives you the right to pat yourself on the back or complain later!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Sustainable Meetings, Copenhagen Style

Meetings and conferences CAN be a catalyst for improving sustainability. Check out how much so at Less Conversation, More Action. Learn how COP 15 helped transform its host city by reading the COP 15 Sustainable Event Report and the Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Olympics: Destination spendspendspend!

Just a little closing note on the immediate Winter Olympic legacy to the City of Vancouver. Consumer spending during the Games is estimated to have increased by 48% during the event. Read more. Over the last few weeks I've looked a bit at what the environmental and social implications of the event were, and are, but what is the long term, sustainable economic impact of this incredibly costly event? The jury remains out....

Stay tuned.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Green Buildings: Olympic Event Legacy

Richmond Olympic Oval

Ever wonder if people read and respond to those comments you leave on blogs? Well, I found out today they do!

About a week ago I left a comment on Tourism Vancouver's Olympic blog, asking for some insight about 'greening' the Games. Lo and behold they actually responded with a post about The Green Games! The post includes a brief video profiling some of the green buildings and neighbourhoods developed for the event. Thanks, TVan!

I've written about about some of the operational issues with the Games: sponsorship, waste management, transportation, and aboriginal engagement. But what about how the Games have impacted the built environment?

Events, in this rare case can be seen as a catalyst for ensuring sustainable design elements are included in the built environment. Unfortunately most events deal with the cards they are dealt when it comes to infrastructure in a host destination...they can't create their own deck of new facilities like the Olympics can. The Olympics, however, is a different story.

To its credit the Vancouver 2010 Games has made good use of re-purposing existing facilities, including the Opening Ceremonies, hockey, and speed and figure skating venues. New facilities, as is evidenced in the video, have been built with a goal of achieving LEED certification. Great examples include the new Vancouver Convention Center expansion, Athlete's Village and Richmond Oval.

This extends to Whistler where it is estimated the population pressure on this small resort town has increased by seven times to accommodate athletes and visitors for the Games. The resort is featuring a new composting facility to handle organic waste, including sewage. Indeed there may be some athlete DNA sticking around in Whistler vegetation for many years to come.

Monday, 22 February 2010

(More Than a) Word from our Sponsor

Thanks to Nancy Wilson for the inspiration for today's post. She commented the other day about the visibility of bottled water at the various press conferences being aired from Vancouver 2010. As is often the case with Nancy, her comment got me thinking ...

Turns out, I guess that's what happens when you hand the keys to the city over to Olympic organizers.

I will be the first to confess I have a strong emotional reaction to what seems like corporate sponsorship overriding the democratically expressed preference of a city's citizens to ban bottled water. That's right, in April 2009 Vancouver City Council voted to ban bottled water at city-run facilities, some of which are being used as Olympic venues. Turns out that because the City's contractual arrangements with VANOC, the organising commitee of the games, pre-date the decision of the current council, the new mandate for eliminating bottled water does not apply in this case. Cooperation by sponsors and contracted suppliers for the Games is voluntary.

With Coca-Cola anticipated to sell 7.5 million beverages - including bottled Dasani water - at the Games, it appears doubtful any voluntary educational program by the City of Vancouver to inform them of preferences for no bottled water will be heeded.

Regardless of the waste issue, what I realize is resonating with me is the ability of corporate event sponsorships to interfere with community living, and democratically expressed preferences.

And Coca-Cola is not the only target, in my mind. Friday I went to my local market to pick up some groceries. It's a great public market...every weekend for 10 years I've stopped in at the baker, soupmeister and fishmonger to get locally made brunch goodies for the weekend. Last Friday the owners had to tell me "I'm sorry, we're only taking Visa until the end of the Games". They looked apologetic, obviously having gotten used to the surprise or perhaps irate reaction of regular customers used to paying other ways. It wasn't inconvenient enough I had to find a way to pay for my Games tickets using the only credit card I don't own, now I can't get groceries without a one?

As a planner I'm fully aware of the need for sponsors to enable events, particularly of the scale of the Olympics. I expect that when I participate in the Games that by proxy I'll have to honour official sponsor protocols and all that come with it. However, as a resident of a community affected by a large-scale event I'm questioning the ethics of enabling corporations as part of their sponsorship arrangement to control how I engage in my community beyond the event, as well as their power to override local government.

Would welcome perspectives on both sides.

For more reading on related topics:
Vancouver's Push to Ban Plastic Bottles Won't Hold for the Olympics
Council of Canadian's Blog: Coca-Cola's Plant Bottle
The Top Dogs of Olympic Sponsorship
Dispatches from Vancouver: The Curious Case of GM Place
Marketers Play Olympic Cat and Mouse Game

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Olympic Recycling Follow-up

Many thanks to Zero Waste Blog for providing some more insight on Vancouver 2010 Games recycling. Comments on this post contain an important lesson for all event managers when it comes to destination selection and interpreting what is meant by 'diversion' from landfill.

I recently had a conversation with a conference center manager about their diversion rate. Their initial response: "We divert 95% of materials."

"To where?"

"Well, about 20% goes into our kitchen composting program that is picked up by a local pig farmer. 10% is recycled paper, cardboard and beverage containers. About 4% is landscaping compost. We have about 61% that is waste to energy. 5% is construction and debris which we landfill."

"Waste to energy?"

"We have an incineration facility that burns it as a power source."

Incineration is a highly controversial form of waste diversion from landfill. It is important for meeting professionals who are trying to measure sustainability meaningfully to know the issues related to burning of waste for energy, which include increased emissions, local air pollution and impacts on human health. Granted, recycling and composting have corresponding environmental impacts, there are many who feel reduction, reuse, recycling and composting are a higher order of environmentally responsible action and should be pursued as priority.

Event managers would likely be surprised how many destinations and venues cite incineration as part of their diversion rate. More and more cities, states and provinces are also looking to pursue incineration where allowances are being made to label it 'renewable energy'. These trends make it so important to acquire clear information about this issue from your destination, and determine a position on it. I have opted to not include incineration in event diversion metrics, feeling that - as the commenter has suggested - it provides a skewed perception about event waste and can be construed as greenwashing. So in the example above, I opt to use 34% as the diversion rate, rather than the 95%.

Lesson learned: dig deeper and ask questions about what is meant by diversion. Make sure you understand the issues and reflect your diversion as accurately and transparently as possible.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Recycling, Olympic-style

Recycling centers, Whistler, BC

Waste management for events can be tough for event planners. Destination cities can help by providing recycling and composting programs as standard and tracking recycling rates for the city and major venues.

Anyone who has planned an event recycling program knows that recycling station design a critical success factor. Do you co-mingle recyclables, or sort them? Are stations accessible? Are they visually consistent so they stand out and attendees can spot them easily? Is streaming the same everywhere, or do some stations sort recyclables while some co-mingle? Is signage clear so attendees know how to recycle?

Doing this inside one venue is one thing, but trying to do it across multiple venues and multiple cities for one event is down-right mind-boggling! That is the challenge presently underway in Vancouver as event organizers try to address the increased waste footprint resulting from the Olympics.

In the City of Vancouver 200 temporary recycling stations have been added to the Downtown core, apparently using a co-mingled approach. The City of Vancouver has designated a $500,000 grant to United We Can to employ 70 residents of the Downtown Eastside to collect recyclables from these receptacles at a rate of $10/hour. For a city known for its 'green' image the fact the program is a temporary measure for the Olympics is rather disappointing.
Temporary recycling centers, Downtown Vancouver, BC
Recycling on the left, trash on the right

In the City of North Vancouver, which is a major transportation hub for alpine events, local government has taken a different tactic, using streamed recycling centers that also include composting. Again, recycling in outdoor public spaces is a temporary measure in this case, sadly.
Sorted recycling centers, North Vancouver, BC

In the case of Whistler they have had to do very little work to prepare for onsite waste management for the Olympic Games. For years the resort has had recycling centers, including a special 'bear proof' design (image above).

It is clear from a look into receptacles that despite best efforts on the part of municipalities and organizers that attendees are not recycling or composting correctly.

Contaminated recycling centre, Downtown Vancouver

Recycling streams are contaminated and people clearly have no idea what is compostable or not. In this respect the United We Can program is proving very effective in ensuring at least containers are removed from the stream. You'll notice no containers in the photo above which was recently mined by binners. Paper, on the other hand, is a different story.

In defense of organizers, the best way to deal with this situation is to designate volunteers at recycling centers, however, think of magnitude of such a program! 200 stations, all day, for 16 days at least. That's over 40,000 volunteer hours for Downtown Vancouver alone, not to mention the cost to organize, train and outfit volunteers. And that is not including other municipalities, or inside venues.

Indeed reduction seems the best alternative!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Climate Change Effect on Events...and Contribution from Events: Olympic News

A unprecedented snow-less January has Vancouver Olympic organizers skipping to Plan B and C to ensure at least one venue is 2010 Games-ready. The lack of snow on Cypress Mountain - the site of freestyle and snowboard competitions - is perhaps a sign of global warming, and a huge sustainability issue for event organizers. How do
you host an event relying on snow, when there is none? Solutions have included bringing down snow from higher elevations on the mountain by tractor and helicopter, as well as trucking in snow from as far as 3 hours away from the venue. Is it a case of spending more carbon to manage the impact of more carbon?

Read more:

Poverty Olympics?

Things are heating up in preparation for the Olympics, and it is not just resulting in lack of snow at the venues as reported last week. As the Opening Ceremonies loom so does a sense of tension as protesters of the Games assemble in Vancouver. This weekend an independent journalist was detained and refused entry to Canada allegedly due to connections with protest organizers. With a history of large, vocal, public demonstrations in the city, Games organisers are challenged to enable free speech, while maintaining a positive event experience for participants. Sounds like event sustainability at work!

At issue are many things, but a primary issue is the lending of taxpayer support to the Olympics at the expense of funding to alleviate poverty in Canada's poorest postal code, the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Government agencies have created an information center in the neighbourhood (Downtown Eastside Connect) to enable education about this issues, however critics are quick to point out the 'spin' being made by the center. Anyone interested in reading more about this event sustainability issue can check out the following...

Photo: Reuters

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Events: Acceptable on our Home and Native Land?

Are the Vancouver Olympics socially responsible? It would seem to depend on who you ask. With the Olympic torch crossing the border into British Columbia and the 'home stretch' to Vancouver, champions and critics are crawling out of the woodwork, many of them using the event as a platform for social activism. Some on the positive side, some on the negative side.

One of the more high-profile social issues that has been dominating the local media throughout the planning phase of the Games has been aboriginal engagement. In British Columbia honouring tribal territory rights is a very politically significant issue, and has been a consideration of Games organisers since before the Games were awarded. In fact, VANOC agreements with the four host First Nations were signed in order to be able to present the original bid for the Games to the IOC. For some, however, there is little equity in holding an Olympic spectacle on 'stolen native land'. Indeed event organizers are faced with more complicated social issues than ever as part of their activities.

Anyone interested in reading more about either perspective on aboriginal involvement in the Olympic Games may want to check out the following:
* Organisers' perspectives on Aboriginal Engagement in the Games
* Critic's perspectives related to Aboriginal Engagement in the Games

Friday, 22 January 2010

Olympic Update: TravelSmart

I found the inspiration for my first Olympic update in my mail. Apparently, even though I live outside of the City of Vancouver and a good distance from any Olympic venues, I will be affected by traffic and parking restrictions throughout my neighborhood. I live in a designated
hub for shuttle traffic to both Whistler and the North Shore Mountains in Vancouver, meaning my residential street and lane-ways will be hosting buses and eager spectators on their way to many of the alpine events. Not a big deal really...thank goodness for my designated parking spot :)

The notice caused me to go online to find out what plans VANOC and Translink (our regional transit network) have to ease the traffic burden for the event. I was intrigued by what I found.

To prepare for the Games organizers have partnered with local transit providers to create a special TravelSmart2010 website to give Games attendees all they need to know about making their experience as traffic hassle-free as possible. Not only does it actively incentivize transit travel during the Games, but challenges residents and businesses to achieve specific traffic reductions on a weekly basis, with a Games-time goal of 30% traffic reductions Downtown during the event. Every Friday between now and the Games' opening the commuting public is being tested by standard mock closures to get them used to traffic changes. In the first week we've had a 3% success rate. Here's hoping we make some progress for next week, and if we're successful, that it sticks!

Green Games? Green City?

In less than one month my hometown is going to be hosting a little party: the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. It’s been an interesting journey since 2003 when it was announced we would host the games. Notice I use the word ‘we’: I realize I’m starting to get excited and take ownership of something I was frankly skeptical about.

As a resident and tax payer I will confess I am concerned about the impact. As an event professional I’m also curious to watch my city, province and country respond to hosting a mega-event of global significance.

As someone who practices event sustainability I’ve been mining the event for evidence of this theme, sustainability being one of the three pillars of the Olympic movement. What stories are out there that show destination sustainability in action? How is this event catalyzing improvements in environmental and socially responsible practices in Vancouver, and its surrounding communities? What lessons can be learned by other destinations, and other events?

In the coming weeks I hope to share some examples in answer to these questions above.